STRONG POINTS: Independent Senator Elton Prescott speaks at the sitting of the Senate at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, yesterday. —Photos: CURTIS CHASE

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Independent senator wants evidence from Govt on why soldiers should be given arrest powers:

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

Show me the proof.
The first Independent senator to speak on the controversial legislation to give members of the Defence Force police powers of arrest yesterday asked for evidence from the Government to support why this was necessary.
Independent Senator Elton Prescott SC further questioned why the Miscellaneous Provisions (Defence and Police Complaints) Bill, 2013 was necessary in the first place when mechanisms were being utilised at present, such as joint army and police patrols and increased intelligence.
Prescott was speaking during the debate of the bill yesterday in the Senate sitting, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, where the votes of at least four Independent senators are needed for the passage of the legislation.
“We need to be told by the Government: these are the outcomes that we expect and they are based on scientific research, analysis, psychological testing, whatever it may be, things that people can rely on and say our Government knows what they are about, and I leave that to the Honourable Attorney General to tell us what intelligent research informs the conclusion you have come to making this the instrument you want to use to clean the stables?” asked Prescott.
He said one does not expect crime to be eradicated, but if there is a sunset clause in the legislation for two years, then the people should know why it is needed and what confidence Government has to achieve its objective.
“Honourable Attorney General, tell us what have your researchers unearthed? What is the relationship like between the military forces and the police? Has the office of law enforcement policy informed the process of your thinking?” asked Prescott.
“Can we say we have seen the statistics and it clearly points to methods we can use to ensure there is a comfortable relationship between the military and the law enforcement official? I haven’t heard it and I thought that would have been the way to present the legislation, against that background,” he added.
Prescott questioned further whether members of the Defence Force would be on “active service”—meaning engaged in operations against their enemies when they are put into the communities.
He also pointed to a newspaper report in which Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams said there was a decrease in the numbers of murders and violent crimes in the month of March—the lowest in six years.
Prescott said if the objective of the bill is to do just this, then it would be a redundant exercise as there was already success in this area.
“If the strategic objective of this piece of legislation is to reduce serious crime or murders, in particular, this tells us maybe we could hold our hands a little longer ’cause like we getting there,” said Prescott.
As he read the newspaper report on Williams’s interview, Prescott added:
“So, therefore, it doesn’t seem to me that we need new legislation.We know that we are already excelling at what we set out to do; we are using what we have: joint patrols, increased intelligence, and we are seeing results.”
He questioned as well the need to add to this country’s laws.
Prescott also pointed out that Section 46 of the Police Service Act states the police can call on any person to assist and such a person may arrest without warrant where an offence is seen to be committed by another person.
“The police already have the power to call on each of us able-bodied citizens to assist the police when we are faced with a situation that an offence is being committed,” he said, adding that person can be wearing or not wearing a military uniform.
Prescott said there are times when the people of this country rise up in defence, without any demands being made upon them.
Almost every Trinidadian, he said, already has police powers as the people, by law, are required to assist the police.
Debate on the bill, which continued late last night, is expected to resume today.

Independent senators

The nine are Elton Prescott, Helen Drayton, Dr Rolph Balgobin, Subhas Ramkhelawan, Dr Victor Wheeler,
Dr James Armstrong, Dr Lennox Bernard, Harold Ramkissoon and Corinne Baptiste-McKnight.
Making contributions yesterday were Prescott and Baptiste-McKnight.
Balgobin was absent from the Senate yesterday.
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